By Francisco Salazar
CARSON, Calif. - It was round 10 and Oscar Valdez looked like he was in a lot of trouble.
Momentum was on the side of opponent Miguel Marriaga and he had expended his energy early on in the fight. Then came the left hook that saved the round and the fight for him.
Valdez needed every ounce of strength in him to make that punch count and turn the fight around in his favor. Not only did he have his arm raised in victory, but he learned valuable lessons Saturday night, some which would make him a better fighter in the long run.
Valdez was able to thrill the 5,419 fans in attendance at the Stubhub Center on his way to a 12 round unanimous decision.
With the win, Valdez improves to 22-0, with 19 KOs, also retaining his WBO World featherweight title.
Marriaga, from Colombia, gave a great account of himself in the fight, proving he is a worthy featherweight contender. He falls to 25-2, with 20 KOs.
The fight was a solid match-up on paper, but it was a significant test for the popular fighter from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The clash between the two combatants also turned out to be another solid clash that added to the reputation of the Stubhub Center, where back-and-forth clashes turn into candidates for 'Fight of the Year.'
This fight was not a Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov war or the third clash between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, but it was still a solid fight.
Leading up to the fight, Valdez stated Marriaga was his toughest opponent to date.
"I believe Marriaga would beat any of the opponents I have faced," Valdez told Boxingscene.com at an open workout to promote his fight with Marriaga.
Those who might not have believed Valdez might have been surprised by the competitiveness early on. Both fighters let their hands go during the opening rounds of the fight, but it was Marriaga who was effective, landing counter right hands to the head of Valdez.
Undaunted and maybe wanting to show his bravado, Valdez hung in the pocket with Marriaga, trading hooks and crosses with Marriaga. A barrage of punches early in round four momentarily staggered Marriaga.
The aggressive tactics Valdez used did bring excitement to those in attendance, but there were points in the fight where Valdez could have slowed down the fight or attacked the body, making the fight easier for him.
"Maybe I should've boxed more," said Valdez, who is trained by Manuel 'Manny' Robles. "I should;ve listened to my corner more.
By the middle rounds, Marriaga was at his best, pressing the fight and connecting more to the head of Valdez. Entering the 10th round, it seemed Marriaga was in control and Valdez's punch output was dropping.
It was in that 10th round where Marriaga was winning the round, beating Valdez to the punch until midway through the round when a left hook staggered Marriaga, ultimately putting him down on the canvas. To his credit, Marriaga stood up and fought back bravely.
Despite swelling under his left eye, Marraiga fought on, but his punch output dropped significantly. Sensing this and likely catching a second wind, Valdez won the final two rounds by outlanding Marriaga.
Scores were 116-111 (Boxingscene.com had the same score), 119-108, and 118-109 for Valdez, but the final two scores did not do the fight or Marriaga justice, considering how competitive the fight was.
"Thank God I won the fight," said Valdez, who is managed by Frank Espinoza, after the fight. "He's a tough guy."
Valdez may be 25 years of age. He may be a world titleholder and may or may not have hit his ceiling as a fighters.
But Valdez did take away numerous factors away from the fight.
"I learned I had to pace myself more in a fight. Marriaga brought out the best in me, but I could have this fight a lot easier for myself."
Marriaga gave Valdez praise.
"He's a great champion."
Valdez could look at unifying against the other featherweight titleholders in the division, but that remains to be seen. He could make a voluntary defense against any of the top 15 fighters in the sanctioning body as well.
Valdez has a penchant for always being in the gym, but after a tough outing against Marriaga Saturday night, it is a guarantee Valdez will rest Sunday.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing